The Species You Can Experience On The Project

I came to Tenerife as part of my work experience for college and on my boat trips I saw five different types of cetaceans! Here is a little more about the species found around Tenerife:

The most common cetaceans in the Canary Islands are the sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, short-finned pilot whales and Risso’s dolphin.

Short-finned pilot whales are the most common species found around Tenerife. They are around 4.7-7.3m in length and 1-3 tonnes in weight, their diet consists of giant squid and a variety of fish (they will chase the giant squid up to depths of 1000m at high speeds), the females can live for up to 60+ years whereas the males only live for around 45. The best ways to tell that it is a pilot whale is by their bulbous head and because their dorsal fin is positioned far forward on the back, curved towards the tail.

Sperm whales are the resident species of Santa Cruz. The males are around 17-18m long and the females are around 15m long, they weigh around 20-57 tonnes and they feed on deep water squid, octopus and large fish. The most interesting thing is they can dive deeper and longer than any other mammal.

Bottlenose dolphins are much smaller, around 3-4.2m in length and weigh 0.5 tonnes. Their diet consists of fish, squid and octopus. The best way to recognise a bottlenose dolphin is by their short beak with their sloping forehead and a high dorsal fin (the fin at the top). They also rear their calves up to the age of 3-4 years old; then the males will leave in pairs. The dolphins live in female groups of 20-30 animals.

Risso’s dolphins are resident on the west coast and are around 2.6-3m long and weigh 300-500kg. They live off squid, octopus, fish and crustaceans. They start off in life as a dark grey colour and their whiteness colour develops due to the build-up of scars over their lifetime through fights with each other and they are also known to be aggressive towards other cetacean species.

A few of the behaviours shown by the whales when we were on the boats is the ‘spy hop’, when the whale rises vertically towards the surface with its head out of the water. The ‘tail slap’ this is when they raise their tail flukes and slap them forcefully on the surface of the water. And finally ‘breach’ this is an acrobatic display where the whales use their tails to launch themselves out of the water and then land back on the surface with a splash!

By Jodie Croft - Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Almost in Rio! Carnival in Santa Cruz

Get ready… 3… 2… 1… Superman, Wonderwoman, Mickey Mouse, a few robots, some flamenco dancers, a couple of sumo ringers, Hulk, nurses, surgeons, and a crowd of men and women in flashy neon skirts and bulky hats get their hands in the air for the Y-M-C-A – it’s Carnival in Santa Cruz!

Said to be second only to Rio, the carnival in the capital of Tenerife lasts for almost two weeks. The Carnival Queen is selected on the Wednesday preceding the celebrations and the ceremony is broadcast on television. On Friday the Announcement Parade is held, followed by parties in the street until the early morning hours; it’s the official start of the carnival. The weekend is full of parades, where the queen and her bridesmaids make their way through town. The floats are pulled by cars as the opulent costumes of metal, feathers and plastic are too heavy to carry. In the evening, the streets are filled with carnival goers and music comes from the three stages around the main squares in the city.

On Ash Wednesday, the locals celebrate the burial of the sardine: A giant paper sardine is carried like in a funeral procession, with people dressed in mourning and wailing widows. Even though this is the official end of carnival, music and concerts will keep going until the following weekend.

The parties are still at the heart of the festivities. On Saturday night, it seemed the entire population of Tenerife had made its way to the capital! The bus was already crowded and we squeezed in between a devil, some cheerleaders and a monk. Suddenly our masks and face paint didn’t seem to stand out at all. On the contrary, we were almost alone wearing our everyday clothes.

Here we were, in Santa Cruz, ready to experience a real Canarian carnival. And what an experience it was! The parade and the floats were an explosion of colour, underlined by the loud sounds of the drums; each float was preceded by musical groups and dancers. The crowd cheered as they walked, little girls dressed as princesses and fairies yelled “I want to be the queen” and cameras were flashing from all sides. With each music group, a new rhythm took over, the colours of the big feathers and high hats changed and people of all ages were dancing – we could well have been in Rio! The youngest in the dance troops were sometimes six years old, taking their part in the progression with the seriousness of professional dancers.

After the last bridesmaid had made her way down the streets of Santa Cruz, the squares started to fill with people and we made our way round the stages: modern dance music, traditional live bands, and a mix of (apparently well-known) Spanish songs, 80s hits, and Spanish versions of 80s hits. Whenever we turned around, the discovered new fancy dress: a character of a comic strip, police officers of all nationalities, a wannabe Miley Circus, fruits, crisps packets, popcorn (yes, we are still talking out costumes!), Roman soldiers with slaves, clowns… And with the theme of this year’s carnival being The 80s, flower power was all over the place as well, along with popes, nuns and bishops. To mock the Catholic Church, a large amount of people dress as “dirty nuns”.

We stayed until the early morning, surrounded by people partying in a language we didn’t understand, then belting out the English tunes along with everyone else, and laughing while trying to keep up with Spanish lyrics of Gloria Gaynor.

Coming from the south of the island, where tourism dominates the daily life, we found ourselves in the midst of mainly locals and when it came to Spanish song and dance, we were out of the loop. When we made our way home, exhausted and yearning for our beds, the party was nowhere near finished. It turns out, celebrating Tenerife-style takes practice! Our first challenge was finding our way around with the limited view through the carnival mask, let alone breathing under it. It takes some getting used to, but we tried our best to blend in and take part in the festivities, and in return we got the taste of an authentic Tenerife carnival, with all its music, drums, flashy colours and feathers.  

By Claire Herbaux - Field Communications Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Meet Lorain! Our New Assistant Research Officer 

Meet Lorain, our new Assistant Research Officer who arrived in Tenerife last week. She is getting away from cold Amsterdam and helping out with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Project for three months. It has been quite an exciting first week with lots of sightings of cetaceans!

What made you choose this project?

This project combines my childhood dream with my dream career path!
I was one of those kids who grew up watching movies such as Free Willy and Flipper, my room was covered in dolphin posters and ornaments and I was dreaming of one day being able to help save these beautiful animals from the ‘bad guys’.

In university I mainly focused on marine biology from an interdisciplinary environmental conservation perspective but over the years I was able to guide the topics of several assignments to be about various species of dolphin. I recently graduated and the first thing I did was look for a job relating to whales and dolphins that my younger self would be proud of – that is when I found this project!

In addition, my dream career is one in which I can make the everyday person passionate about conservation and sustainable resource management, whilst also doing hands-on work in the field myself. This project contains both of these elements as you collect data by going out on boat trips,  record cetacean behaviour which will later be analysed, and by interacting with members of the public and other volunteers you have the opportunity to make people think about things they have never thought about or take for granted.

What are you looking forward to most?

Haha! This is a hard question to answer. I am seriously as excited as a little kid about seeing whales and dolphins in their natural environment. Also, this is a great way to meet new people who share the same interests as you, so I am actually really looking forward to meeting them… or rather - you! In addition, due to the natural beauty of the island there are plenty of opportunities to do extra activities such as surfing, diving, and hiking. Oh, and I must mention: I plan to eat a lot of the locally grown bananas! They are super sweet and simply scrumptious!

Favourite Quote?

Be the person you want to meet!

What are you hoping to do after this internship?

I am hoping the experience I gain from this project will help me get one step closer to obtaining my dream job. Right now I am unsure what it would look like exactly but one of the things I would like to do in the near future is work as a marine biologist at a resort. Here again it would be about connecting people to nature, making them appreciate the beauty and importance of what is around them and how their choices (both directly and indirectly) make the difference. If you can reach people in the right way they will be motivated, tell their family and friends and a ripple effect is created. Who knows how many people will get inspired! If everyone does a little we do a lot in total!  

So? How was your first trip on the boats???

Tuesday was the first day I went out on a boat to look for dolphins and whales. We received training on Monday which included a detailed description about cetaceans and data-collecting techniques such as GPS-recording, species recognition, behaviour recognition and how to take a good photo of a dorsal fin, and now it was time to put it all into action!

On the boat, our first stop was the fish-farms which are a few kilometres from the coast. The fishermen were doing maintenance work while some bottlenose dolphins hung around the nets waiting for fish to escape; basically the dolphins are using this spot as a lazy take-away food option! We constantly took pictures of the dorsal fins while we identified the species and observed their behaviour. We also noted things such as how many individuals were present, and whether they were adults or juveniles.

Then we continued further out to sea, keeping our eyes peeled. The conditions were quite calm so the water was very clear and it didn’t take long to spot a surface break in the water and the appearance of some new dorsal fins. This time they were pilot whales and although this species is mostly calm during the day they put on quite a show for us! There was a juvenile that constantly turned over on his back and showed his belly, as well as slapping the water with his tail. This same juvenile had what looked like a strange deformity hanging on its dorsal fin. We took some photos and when we came back to the house to analyse the data we actually saw that the deformity was most likely a piece of sea-weed that had attached itself to the juvenile’s fin. The group rode at the bow (front) of the boat for a while, one individual blew bubbles through its blowhole while another was very inquisitive and hung around at the front of the boat checking us out. It was truly an amazing experience and the time flew by! I cannot wait to go on the even longer boat trips later on this week!

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Menopause in Cetaceans 

Let’s talk about sex, baby. Well, sort of, reproduction really but hopefully I caught your attention. Menopause. Probably something most people don’t want to think a lot about, but biologically it is actually really interesting… at least I think so.

Let’s think about it a bit, what is menopause? Well essentially it is just a female living on for many years after losing her ability to reproduce. It doesn’t sound like much, but from a biological perspective the entire purpose of any organism is to pass its genetic material on to the next generation, so once an individual loses its ability to do that, their existence becomes unnecessary. If a female can’t produce and raise offspring is survival really worth it? So it isn’t really surprising that very few species have long female survival periods after stopping reproduction, yet a few species do. Humans, of course, is the obvious one, but it also occurs in killer whales, possibly in elephants, and… you guessed it – short-finned pilot whales, the star of the Tenerife show!

Since I’ve told you menopause is actually biologically unusual, you may wonder why it happens at all. It may help you to know that both killer whales and short-finned pilot whales exist in what are known as matrilines, or matriarchal societies. Here, female offspring will stay with their mother throughout their life, with in turn their female offspring remaining, forming a group of closely related females. Males tend to leave the group, at least partly, in order to reproduce with females they aren’t related to. Female short-finned pilot whales will not reproduce after the age of 40, yet they can live to around 65 years old, so there must be a good reason for sticking around for another quarter of a century!

Granny, Grandma, Nanny, whatever you call her, everyone loves their Grandmother right? But think about how much knowledge she has, how many years of life experience she can pass on to her children and her children’s children. I’m sure if you think about it you’ve learned something from your Grandmother, even if it’s just the secret family recipe for the world’s best apple pie! Just as in humans, older female short-finned pilot whales hold a wealth of information which can help their offspring to survive and reproduce successfully. So even though she may no longer be producing more of her own offspring, her years of knowledge are ensuring that her genetic material that’s already out there is getting the best possible chance of surviving in to another generation. Let’s hear it for Granny pilot whale!

By Bryony Manley - Assistant Research Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Photo-Identification In Cetaceans

It’s been a quiet week this week, so I’ve used the time to get on with the less glamorous side of scientific research – hours in front of the computer. It’s a necessary evil and one which I enjoy, in its own way, almost as much as the data collection in the field… almost.

I’ve been spending some time working on an aspect of research which is used the world over, and is one of the most powerful tools available to those studying cetaceans – photo-identification.

As with almost any animal, no two individuals will ever look exactly the same, there will be some unique feature which marks them apart from others and can be used for recognising that individual. The idea with photo-identification is to take a clear photograph of that feature in order for it to be recognised again in the future. In some species this will be easier to identify and photograph than others, and the biggest problem with cetaceans is that they spend the majority of their time underwater and out of sight. The fact that they are mammals comes to our aid though, they must return to the surface at least occasionally to breathe, so we can use this opportunity to photograph them.

Different body features are used in identifying different species. In the giant blue whale, the pattern of spots along the side of the body is used, in right whales it is the unique clusters of white markings, or ‘callosities’ on their head, and in humpback whales it is the distinctive black and white patterning on the underside of the tail flukes. Here in Tenerife we are focusing on the resident species of short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins, both of which are recognised by their dorsal fins. Each dorsal fin is a slightly different shape, but this alone is not distinctive enough. Over the course of their life an animal will acquire nicks, notches, and scratches on the fin which make each one as unique as our fingerprints.

One set of photographs of ten different pilot whales will not give you much information – other than that you saw ten different individuals. But hundreds of sets of photographs of pilot whales, taken over years of research, becomes an incredibly powerful research tool. Not only can you say how many different individuals you have ever seen, but you can also say how many times each individual has been seen, if they have ever been seen with a calf indicating they are female, if they are always seen with the same other individuals suggesting a social structure, what times of day or year they are seen showing patterns in behaviour, where they are seen indicating important locations… the list goes on and on.

It is still very early days in our photo-identification of the cetaceans here in Tenerife, but every data set has to start somewhere. Over the coming months and years the photographs you take as volunteers on this project will contribute to a catalogue of images which will be able to tell us a lot about these amazing animals.

By Bryony Manley - Assistant Research Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


First 6 Weeks As An Assistant Research Officer 

Hi, I’m Bryony, the Assistant Research Officer here on the Tenerife Whale and Dolphin Conservation Project and I have to admit I’m shocked. Shocked that I have already been here six weeks out of my six months! They say time flies when you’re having fun, so I must be enjoying myself!

From a personal career development perspective I’ve already learnt a lot, and gained fantastic experience, even in these few weeks on the project. Blessed with consistently good weather I’ve been lucky to get out on the whale watching boats regularly and to observe five different species of whales and dolphins, sometimes seeing three different species in one trip! I’ve seen bottlenose and common dolphins in other countries before but Atlantic spotted dolphins, a Bryde’s or sei whale, and short-finned pilot whale are all new species for me, and it is a great priveledge to see these fascinating animals in the wild on such a regular basis. Of course the pilot whales are really the stars of the show here, and collecting behavioural observations during encounters with these animals is giving me a great chance to get to know more about another cetacean species.

This last week on the project has been great with volunteers managing to get on boat trips throughout the week and see pilot whales every time as well as often the bonus of sighting a dolphin species too. The last trip I took with one volunteer was a three species day, seeing pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, and Atlantic spotted dolphins in the space of just a few hours!

I’m only just scratching the surface of what this beautiful island has to offer beyond the ocean. There is so much more to see and appreciate beyond the heavy tourism around the south. I enjoyed the novelty of Christmas day on the beach, but escaped the crowds on Boxing day to ‘enjoy’ a five hour hike up to the top of the cable car on Teide. The volcanic landscape there is beautiful, in its own rocky bleakness, and allows great views across the island, well worth the effort… but don’t forget a warm coat and a pair of gloves, it may be 22 C on the beach, but up there it’s cold!

Before Christmas I had the chance to experience some of the stunning green mountains of Anaga in the very north of the island. You can’t escape the amazing views on a walk through the area, and definitely another one on my recommendations list. So I’ve packed a lot in so far and I’m really looking forward to exploring even more, and of course encountering more cetaceans, there are a few more species still on my ‘to see’ list...

By Bryony Manley - Assistant Research Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.



My Top 11 Experiences From Two Weeks In Tenerife 

My two weeks here in Tenerife during the festive period has been a very memorable experience. Volunteering on this project has opened up my eyes even more on the environment, and has inspired me to get involved in other conservation projects.

My two weeks in Tenerife:

1.    5 hour hike to the highest mountain in Spain; El Teide and visiting a natural volcanic swimming pool. Cao, from Anaga excursions, was very informative and taught us about Tenerife and the history of the volcanos.


2.    Learning about cetaceans and the importance of taking pictures on their distinctive fin so that we can identify and monitor them.

3.    Learning about the Spanish and Canarian culture and language.

4.    A memorable moment was when we saw hundreds of Atlantic spotted dolphins travelling and giving us quite a show with their jumps and tail flicks. It was very memorable and I was glad to see that there are still a good amount of dolphins in the waters of Tenerife.

5.    Tenerife is an adventure island with cool places to see and plenty of sporting activities to keep you busy, from cycling to paddle boarding.

6.    The crew on the  boats are a nice cheeky bunch who kept us entertained during our boat rides.

7.    My project coordinator Bryony taught me loads about marine life.

8.    After our boat rides and inputting the data then matching the fins to identification catalogue, we read, cooked, and watched films.

9.    Doing a mini project to learn more about how plastic pollution affects our oceans and the marine life.

10.    Meeting new people.

11.    To end the trip, we celebrated New Year’s Eve in the capital city of Santa Cruz which was a lot of fun experiencing the more local culture.

By Alison Lwin - Whale & Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


An Interview with volunteer Jamie Lydon 

Jamie spent a week in Tenerife on our whale and dolphin conservation project to gain some practical knowledge of conservation techniques and marine animals – perfect for a wildlife conservation student! A week goes by very quickly… and although she had a unique experience, she would like to go back and stay longer.

Why did you choose this particular project?
I have just finished my degree in wildlife conservation and am a keen nature lover and have consequently always been interested in taking part in one of Frontier's wildlife conservation projects. I chose this project in particular as I had never seen whales or dolphins in the wild before and was excited to have that opportunity. I also wanted to further my knowledge on marine species and conservation techniques.

Which kind of work and activities did you do during your project?

During this project we boarded the whale watching boats in pairs. We gathered information on the species seen and the behaviours we encountered and tried to gain high quality fin shots in order to identify specific individuals within a species.

How did the culture and people differ to home, and what were the locals like?

The culture was similar to that of home and there was therefore no culture shock. The main thing I noticed was how friendly everybody was. We were soon recognised by our t shirts and fondly referred to as 'the Frontier girls'.

What was the accommodation like?
The accommodation was simple but pleasant consisting of a front room with a sofa and dining table, a small kitchen, 2 bathrooms and shared bedrooms. Mine consisted of 2 bunk beds and a double bed which could be shared by 6 people.

What were the staff and other volunteers like?
Since my time at the project was outside the peak summer period there was only a small number of volunteers. I found that because of this we clicked very quickly which made the project all the more enjoyable. By taking part in the project you already have a common interest in that particular area and you have plenty to talk about each day with what you have seen whilst on the boats.

What was your most amazing moment or your best memory?
I have many amazing memories from my time at the project. Seeing the wild whales and dolphins for the first time was a truly breath taking experience and I was also lucky enough to see a hammerhead shark. During my day off I went on 2 excursions. Firstly I went parasailing which was a completely new and totally incredible experience. I also went snorkelling with wild turtles which was amazing, as I never previously thought I'd be able to get so close to them. We also had the pleasure of speaking to a whale expert and one of the captains of the whale watching boats and it was fascinating to hear of their knowledge and experiences of the cetacean species of Tenerife.

Do you feel the work you were doing was worthwhile?
I feel the work we were doing on the project was very important as it is important for conservationists to know as much information as possible about the species in order to know how best to conserve them.

What sort of wildlife did you encounter?
On most boat trips you will encounter Pilot whales as they are a resident species to Tenerife. They are very cute and lots of them had calves with them. I also encountered bottle nosed Dolphins which whilst also a resident species are only seen in 50% of boat trips so I felt very privileged. I also saw sting rays, turtles, many beautifully coloured fish and a hammerhead shark.

What were you hoping to learn while on project, and have you achieved those goals?
I was hoping to gain more knowledge about marine species and I certainly feel I have by speaking with the experts, the captains and crew on the boats and reading the information booklets at the house. We also had the opportunity to share our passion about the cetaceans and the knowledge we had acquired with the tourists on the boats and it felt great to pass this along.

Any tips and advice you might like to pass on to future volunteers?

My only regret from the project is staying for just 1 week as I feel there was a lot more for me to experience out there so I would recommend staying for as long as you can. I would recommend talking to the crews on the boats as they have lots of knowledge about the species and are very interesting to talk to. I would also say to take part in as many excursions as possible on your days off and definitely go snorkelling with the turtles if you can, you won't regret it!

What do you have planned next?

I plan to find myself a job within my passion of wildlife conservation and hopefully save enough money to participate in Frontiers wildlife conservation projects in the future, possibly returning to Tenerife again.

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


My Time With Frontier 

I have spent three week in Tenerife with frontier, working on the whale and dolphin experience and it has been such great experience. I would completely recommend it to anyone looking to do something new and different on their next holiday. I have loved my time in Tenerife learning about all the different whales and dolphin.

The boats where such fun and I found the crew really helpful and friendly, I really enjoyed the Peter Pan as it is so much fun seeing the Pilot whales swimming and other behaviours. Watching the whales was really intriguing and collecting the data was really enjoyable and interesting. I found the fin identification really fun and it was so exciting to find a match and identify which whale I had been watching.  

All the volunteers have been really nice and welcoming and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone and getting to know new friends. I was so impressed with the wide range of volunteers and I loved hearing all of the different views and ideas. It was also great fun go on excursion with the other volunteers and the staff where very helpful in arranging trips and working out a seclude which could include everything I wanted to do, however the highlight of my trip was swimming with the turtles, and I feel it is definitely a must for any one visiting Tenerife

For anyone looking for a new experience this is the perfect project to wet your appetite and set you off to a perfect start to your gap year, but it is also perfect as a standalone project. Whether you stay for one week or ten you will love every second of Tenerife and the Frontier project.

By Rebecca - Whale and Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife.

Check out what volunteers in Tenerife are up to right now!


What to Expect 

I spent two weeks in Tenerife and I wish I could have stayed for much longer. When I first arrived in Tenerife I was very nervous as I did not know what to expect, however as soon as I got to the house and met other volunteers I relaxed immediately.

Everyone was very nice and friendly and because of this my nerves quickly changed to excitement about what I was going to be doing on the project. On the first full day we had an induction about what we would be doing over the rest of our time in the country and once this was finished we went into Los Cristianos in the afternoon to get our bearings and soak in some of the sun.

Tuesday was the first day we got to go on the boats, we went onto the boats in pairs and had to record data and take photos every time we had an interaction. Every time we had an interaction with a species we had to record the GPS location, species present, number of adults and calves, what other boats were present, environmental conditions and what behaviours we saw displayed by the species. As well as this we had to try and take photos of the species present, particularly focussing on the fins of the pilot whales. These fin shots could then be used later for identification of that particular individual. In total I got to go on 7 boat trips and enjoyed every single one of them!

On top of going on the boats we had the opportunity to carry out many different activities. During my two weeks I visited Santa Cruz for the day, went on an excursion to Mt Teide, did paddle boarding, snorkelled with turtles and went to the waterpark Siam Park. I would definitely recommend spending your free time wisely and doing as many different activities as possible as it made the whole experience even better.

Anyone who has an interest in marine mammals would love this project, you don’t have to have much knowledge of the different species prior to going as you will learn so much during your time there. The two weeks I spent there flew by and I can’t believe it’s all over, I had so much fun out there and definitely will not forget this experience.

By Jenny - Whale & Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife.

Check out what volunteers in Tenerife are up to right now!